Building A SustaInable Life...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Baking: Red Fife Whole Wheat Bread

Recently I noticed that my local bulk food store carries Organic Red Fife wheat flour. Previously unfamiliar with the variety, I decided to give it a try, and took some home. First stop, of course: Google. Red Fife, as it turns out, is a heritage bread wheat introduced to Canada by David Fife and family in about 1842. From 1860 to about 1900, Red Fife set the standard for Canadian wheat and was grown and distributed across the country. Gradually replaced by “new and improved” varieties, it is now seeing a resurgence, being used by artisan bakers and grown by small-scale farmers, largely organically.

I’ve long been a fan of no-knead bread recipes, but after reading that organic red fife can be a little tricky to work with, thought I should kick it old school on this one. I adapted a couple of recipes to come up with this:

3 Cups warm water
1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 Cup honey
4 Cups white flour
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 Cup honey
1 Tbsp sea salt
4 1/2 Cups red fife flour

Mix the first four ingredients and let stand for a half hour or so. Then add the butter, remaining honey, and salt, working in the remaining flour gradually while kneading for 6-8 minutes (you may not need the full amount). Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in volume, then punch it down, form into three loaves, and let rise again until the loaves are about one inch above the rims of their pans. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes (this may need adjusting – my current oven is way wonky). You can brush the tops of the finished loaves with melted butter for a soft crust, or leave them alone for a nice crusty loaf.

The result was a delicious loaf of bread with a firm, chewy crumb. Not bitter at all, the Red Fife flour imparted a nuttiness to the bread, and the scent while baking was mild and almost sweet. The bread rose well, better in fact than other whole grain breads I’ve made. The flour was fairly resistant to incorporating into the dough at first; I would probably mix more of it in from the start rather than try to pick it up while kneading next time.

I'd definitely work with Red Fife again. Not only does its resurgence represent the growing appreciation of heritage seed and its nomenclature an early example of teikei – putting the farmer’s face on food – but it makes yummy, yummy bread.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Closet Cleaning


Today was closet-cleaning day. To be fair, it was more like laundry-catch-up day, and even that didn't get me very far... but tis the thought that counts, no?

At any rate, I'm finding myself inspired by the Johnson family of Mill Valley, California, a family who's been continually downsizing for the past three years, to the point where they now generate virtually zero waste (even with two young boys). With extremely pared-down wardrobes, minimal toys and toiletries, and cleverly-controlled kitchen gear, the family is living a minimalist life that nonetheless seems rich, and appears to be happier for it.

While I don't think I'm quite ready to make such a big leap (the Johnsons don't keep any books in the home, electing to get them all from the library, and choose not to display art or photographs), the thought of truly eliminating the excess is tempting. Having started with the kids' toys, part of me would love to give the same treatment to the closet. Being post-partum and between sizes, however, I reckon I should wait a while, at least until my future shopping trip to the attic. But perhaps there's a big purge to come in our future.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Christmas 2010. Part 2.

So it wasn't all bad... or plastic! I need to give mad props to my awesome sister-in-law and her partner who fully, completely, get it. The two of them helped make Christmas at the in-laws' pretty sweet, especially for the little guy and my hippie sensibilities. Behold the lovely soft toys upcycled out of old thrift store shirts:

Quite awesome pig:

Scary bear:

A rather fetching chicken:

A very cunning lamb who I call Alien Alpaca:

And some paintings:

These make me very happy.  :-)

We've been talking lately about how to get the whole fam on board with a more sustainable holiday next year. None of us is too fond of imposing too many rules - e.g. No Gifts Over $X, Homemade Gifts Only, Secret Santa and the like. What we really want is just for it to be... easy. Simple. Stress-free. Special, even?

Thought about suggesting only "consumable" gifts so as to not add clutter to people's lives. Baking, jam, playdough for the kids, stockings filled with yummy treats, copious amounts of wine. Or there's the option of renting a nice holiday cabin somewhere and foregoing gifts entirely - making it about the experience. That's a lot of bedrooms...

Thinking, thinking...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dragon Belches

Three nights in a row now, Baby Bird has let out what I'm now referring to as Dragon Belches". After a good middle-of-the-night feeding, a wee prop-up results in a defeaning, otherworldly sound reminiscent of a rusted jack-in-the-box being forced painfully through its motions.

I reckon it must be quite satisfying.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Build a Sustainable Life...

Open Source Farming.

This really must be seen and shared!

I love everything about this... I'll let the video speak for itself, as its creators describe it so much better than I could.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Organizing the Chaos

Well, I can't say,I wish we'd thought of this sooner', because, frankly, we did, we're just lazy. But we finally bit the bullet and decided to stash away all of Captain Tightpants' toys save for a handful (he still has unlimited books and blocks). Five toys in the bedroom and five in the living room - all neatly contained in cute baskets, natch - sounds like plenty, but trust me when I say it represents only a small fraction of the whole!

To the basement they go, to be cycled out at a later date so he always has something new" to play with, but never so many toys at once that they just blur together into a meaningless plastic miasma.

His room is now far neater and much more pleasant and it feels good to have pared down a bit. Unexpected fringe benefit: we're now far less likely to kill ourselves descending the stairs of death as he seems reticent to sacrifice precious toys to the task of booby-trapping them. Always a plus.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Old House, This New Life

Following a frenzied and frenetic Christmas marked by too many toys, too much chaos, and far too much plastic…

It is now a new year, and time for a new plan.

My young family is taking steps toward moving East (West, South... away...) and finding that perfect old farmhouse and a handful of acres on which to house some hens, a goat, and an expansive garden. We'll be leaving behind an old inner-city house and yard that will, by the time we’re gone, hopefully be a little bit better than we found it. This blog will attempt to chronicle these adventures, couched as they are in the context of sustainability - environmental, economic, cultural, and social. As we put our plans into motion, live the teachings that recent years have given us, I will write about the small ways we're striving to make a difference. 

The time certainly has come: a toddler and a newborn in tow, a town we've grown increasingly tired of, an inspiring university degree now, at last, behind me, within me... the time is now to make a change, to live more fully the principles that I would like to claim guide me, to show my two boys how brilliant and beautiful it all can be.

So we have a life in transition, transition in the Hopkins sense. Moving toward sustainability and resilience, not merely to endure the ramifications of peak oil, climate change, and an oppressive economic paradigm, but to flourish within them, to come out on the other side into a stronger and brighter future. I will try to share it here, at least until shyness overtakes...

Happy New Year. :)